God's Choice

It is a great joy to be sharing in worship with you this morning, and thank you for welcoming me to your pulpit on this Christian Unity Sunday. It is lovely to see the view at the other end of London Road.

I spent last night in earnest preparation for this sermon.When Fr Adrian says that it no doubt means he spent Saturday night in his study, or on his knees, in prayer and reflection. I spent last night on the sofa watching the BBC talent show The Voice. I do hope that some of you were with me. What I like about The Voice is that, unlike other tv talent shows, it does not subject its contestants to humiliation at the hands of the judges. The coaches sit in their big red chairs with their backs turned to the stage. If they hear a voice that they can hear real potential in then, and only then, do they press their big red button and see the person who is singing.

So often they are surprised when the voice does not seem to match the body – like the slim Indian boy last night with the double bass voice; or the drag artist last week who sang in a high operatic soprano then dropped her voice several octaves when he spoke. Boy George - a self-professed Karma Chameleon – has said that he loves the mis-match that comes with the voice – the difference between the expectation of what you hear, and the reality of what you see. The most unlikely people are chosen because of what the coaches hear, and because of the potential they believe lies within, unhampered by any prejudice the eyes may bring.

Tomorrow the church celebrates the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul. He is a character with which I feel a certain connection. Not because of hardships suffered for the sake of the gospel – I have a far more comfortable life than he – on the sofa watching tv for the sake of a sermon; and not because of deep and complex theological letters written – I am more of a quick email or text sort of girl. No, I feel connected to St Paul because of that experience which we remember tomorrow, his conversion from poacher to gamekeeper.

I too have been on a similar journey, although mine was on King Street in Cambridge rather than the road to Damascus. For nine years I was the licensee of The Champion of the Thames public house on that afore mentioned King Street in Cambridge. I am now an ordained Methodist minister, a denomination associated with total abstinence. I have gone from serving spirits to seeking to bear the fruit of the Spirit in my ministry. Poacher turned gamekeeper indeed. And my story, as St Paul’s, is one that reminds us that God makes extraordinary choices, calling unlikely people to do unlikely things. Like the coaches on their big red chairs in The Voice, God does not judge by what the world sees but the potential that is within.

We heard this morning from the Old Testament and the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was a cup-bearer serving the king. He obediently and prayerfully listened to God, with fasting and lament. His future was remarkable – as God’s servant he was responsible for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and the reconstruction of the community of God’s people returning from exile.

And think of St Paul. However often told or re-told, his is still an astonishing story. That Saul, the implacable enemy of Christianity, who came against the faith 'breathing threats and slaughter', should be chosen by God to be Christianity's greatest proponent and apostle is just the first of a series of dazzling and life-changing paradoxes that flow from Paul's writing. At the heart of these is the revelation of God's sheer grace; finding the lost, loving the violent into light, and working everything through the very weakness of those who love him.

God sees the potential and he calls his own.

But calling is not just about remarkable stories. In his Letter to the Corinthians Paul himself tells us that we are individually members of the body of Christ, and that God has given us each gifts. It takes a certain amount of courage to put your gift on display, to reveal it to the world, as those contestants on The Voice know. Each comes out and sings their heart out, but only few know the joy of a turning chair and the choice of a coach.The Voice is a competition. There can be only one winner.

The Christian life is not a competition. All are called. All are gifted. All can, and shall be winners. We are God’s choice. Each one of us. And God has no need of that big red chair. God has no moment of hesitation about whether to press the button. For God himself has given us our gifts, to be used together in the service of his kingdom. We simply need to have the courage to discern, to accept those gifts, and to live them to the glory of his name.

Our Gospel reading today reminds us of God’s most extraordinary choice. His incarnation in Jesus. Coming among us, the word made flesh. And yet at the outset of his ministry, as he returns home to the synagogue in Nazareth, reads from the prophet Isaiah and declares the scripture to be fulfilled in him – as indeed it is - his voice, his potential is not seen. There are too many pre-conceived notions about who God calls, how God works. For those present it is too extraordinary, too unlikely, that scripture was fulfilled in that man. The congregation mutter. Jesus, son of Joseph the carpenter? Who does he think he is?

It hardly matters who he thinks he is, it is who he is, what lies within, that matters. Just as it hardly matters who we think we are, it is what God thinks we are that matters. God who sees beyond our limited vision, who calls us beyond our wildest imaginings into the extraordinary, the unlikely and who gives us the gifts we need to make up the body of Christ.

In this week of prayer for Christian Unity we acknowledge that we are all different but we are all one in Christ, and that we need each part of the body.

Scripture and experience confirm that God’s choices are extraordinary. We could spend our time marveling or doubting. Or we could spend it living to God’s glory in the ways to which we are gifted and the ways in which we are called and letting praise rise from earth to heaven.